Drastically reduced emissions by 2030? New report says don’t hold your breath

A wind turbine farm with a snow-capped mountain in the distance.
A turbine farm turns wind into electricity off California 14 in early 2023 in Mojave.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. It’s Monday, March 18. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Can California hit emissions goals by 2030? A new report casts doubt

California’s goal was ambitious: The state vowed to reduce, by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions by 40% compared with 1990’s levels.

But according to a new report, the rate at which emissions are being reduced has put us more than 15 years behind schedule. The authors of the latest California Green Innovation Index now project we won’t hit our reduction goal until 2047.


Researchers with the nonprofit group Next 10 and consulting group Beacon Economics analyzed emissions data from 2021 — the most recent year provided by the state. Since 2010, emissions have dipped just 11.5% below those of 1990, the report states.

“California has long been a leader in emissions control,” Times investigative reporter Melody Petersen wrote. “The new report has faced pushback from state officials who say they are much further along in hitting the goals than the report authors believe.”

A pandemic dip, then a rebound

You might remember how clean the air looked and felt around this time four years ago. We drove a lot less during 2020’s stay-at-home orders, leading to a notable drop in emissions.

But those reductions were short-lived. The analysis found the state’s carbon emissions increased by 3.4% the next year, driven by more people getting back in their cars and fewer people taking public transit.

Some of the increase was also partly attributed to the state’s drought conditions in 2021. Hydropower generated less electricity, leading to a greater reliance on natural-gas-fueled power plants.


“Efforts to promote renewable power as well as zero-emission buildings and vehicles will have to dramatically accelerate in order to achieve the state’s goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030,” authors wrote in the report’s key findings.

State officials push back

Liane Randolph, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, contests the study’s findings, telling Melody the state remains on track for hitting its goals.

Melody also notes this isn’t the only report that’s been critical of California’s progress.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office published a report last year that estimated that emissions had been falling an average of about 1% a year over the last decade and would need to fall 4% annually. The authors also called out the Air Resources Board, saying members lacked “a clear strategy” to achieve the 2030 goal.

California has hit some other targets, Melody explained:

“The state also met its 2025 goal of having 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road two years early, although sales of electric vehicles dropped for the first time in more than a decade late last year.”


So, depending on whom you ask, we’re on track or about 17 years behind. But there seems to be agreement that it will take an incredibly ambitious and sustained effort to eventually reach that goal.

Noel Perry, founder of Next 10, told Melody there are “substantial obstacles” to ramping up California’s decarbonization efforts.

“These are not insurmountable,” Perry said, “but we need to act urgently.”

You can read more of Melody’s reporting here.

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And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! We’re running low on submissions. Send us photos that scream California and we may feature them in an edition of Essential California.

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A sunset view from Soberanes Point, in Garrapata State Park south of Carmel.
(Rick LeFlore)

Today’s great photo is from Rick LeFlore of Davis: Soberanes Point in Garrapata State Park. Rick writes:

“Soberanes Point affords relatively easily obtained breathtaking views of the Big Sur coast and Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. Sea otters and gray whales (seasonally) may be seen just offshore, while the volcanic remnant Point Sur, topped by Point Sur Lighthouse, rounds out the view to the south. Glorious sunset watching is the perfect end to a day trip in this ‘only in California’ setting.”

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Amy Hubbard, deputy editor, Fast Break

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